A rapidly growing, mostly rural population spread over 80 islands means it is difficult to provide health services in Vanuatu. Cataract is still one of the major causes of blindness in Vanuatu. There is also a high rate of diabetic retinopathy, with a 2007 survey showing that 52.9 percent of people with diabetes had this eye disease.
In 2001, aware of the desperate need for eye care services in Vanuatu, we launched the country’s first national eye care programme. Prior to this, Vanuatu had no resident eye doctor and only one eye clinic which was staffed solely by a part-time eye nurse using outdated equipment.
From 2001 to 2006 we provided practical training and placement for eye specialists throughout the country. Two surgical centres were established and four provincial hospitals were equipped with eye care clinics. At the end of the five years, Vanuatu had a functioning eye care workforce and infrastructure that enabled them to use their skills.
In 2015, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Health in Vanuatu to further strengthen and outline areas of collaboration. The priority of the Ministry was to have at least one candidate in training at the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji to become an eye doctor by 2016, and up to three candidates either trained or in training to become eye doctors by 2020.
In 2016, Dr Kasso began his training to become an eye doctor. He will graduate in 2018. While waiting for the country’s workforce to be trained at the Pacific Eye Institute, we've established a diabetic retinopathy programme in Port Vila, with visiting eye doctors working closely with local Foundation-trained eye nurses, to screen and treat diabetic retinopathy patients. In addition, our Pacific outreach team, based in Fiji, continues to visit Vanuatu to address urgent eye care needs. We will also prioritise workforce support visits to Vanuatu’s eye care graduates.
Our Pacific outreach team has spent four weeks in Vanuatu in 2017, providing both surgical eye care and diabetic retinopathy services. Altogether: